Monday, March 14, 2011

Evagoras Pallikarides: hero and poet

Θα πάρω μιάν ανηφοριά 
θα πάρω μονοπάτια
να βρω τα σκαλοπάτια
που παν στη Λευτεριά

(Ευαγόρας Παλληκαρίδης)

Evagoras Pallikarides was born in the Cypriot village of Tsada in the Paphos district on 27 February 1938 and was executed by the British colonial authorities on 13 March 1957, aged 19.

An intense, brilliant student who filled dozens of exercise books with poems, prose and letters, Pallikarides became involved aged 15 with the struggle to drive the British out of Cyprus and unite the island with Greece.

In June 1953, the colonial regime to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth arranged celebrations across Cyprus and ordered the Union flag to be raised over all schools.

 There were boycotts of the coronation events and demonstrations throughout the island and at his school, the Hellenic Gymnasium, in Paphos Pallikarides climbed the flagstaff, pulled down the British flag and tore it to shreds.

Two years later, and still a school student, Pallikarides joined the national liberation movement EOKA, and took part in pro-Enosis protests, at one of which he was arrested for assaulting two British soldiers trying to break up the rally.

A day before his trial, and having decided to join the EOKA fighters in the mountains, Pallikarides broke into his school and left the following message and poem for his fellow students to read the following morning:

‘Old classmates. At this time, someone is missing from among you, someone who has left in search of freedom’s air, someone who you might not see alive again. Don’t cry at his graveside. It won’t do for you to cry. A few spring flowers scatter on his grave. This is enough for him…

I’ll take an uphill road
I’ll take the paths
To find the stairs
That lead to freedom

I'll leave brothers, sisters
My mother, my father
In the valleys beyond
And the mountainsides

Searching for freedom
I'll have as company
The white snow
Mountains and torrents

Even if it's winter now
The summer will come
Bringing Freedom
To cities and villages

I’ll take an uphill road
I’ll take the paths
To find the stairs
That lead to freedom

I'll climb the stairs
I'll enter a palace
I know it will be an illusion
I know it won't be real

I'll wonder in the palace
Until I find the throne
Only a queen
Sitting on it

Beautiful daughter, I will say,
Open your wings
And take me in your embrace
That's all I ask…’

For the next year, Pallikarides took part in operations against the British in the Paphos district and had a bounty of £5,000 put on his head. On 19 December 1956, he was arrested carrying a gun – a capital offence.

At his trial, Pallikarides admitted possession of the Bren gun and declared: ‘I know you will hang me. Whatever I did, I did as a Cypriot Greek fighting for liberty. Nothing more.’

Despite protests and pleas from around the world, clemency was refused and the 19-year-old Pallikarides was sentenced to death. In his last letter to his family, Pallikarides wrote: ‘I will follow my fate with courage. This is my final letter. But it doesn’t matter. I don’t regret anything. So what if I lose it all? Death comes but once. I’ll happily find the way to my last resting place. We all have to die. It is a good thing to die for Greece. The time is 7:30, the most beautiful time on the most beautiful day of my life. Don’t ask why.’

Pallikarides was led to the gallows singing the Greek national anthem.

As mentioned, Pallikarides was a prolific schoolboy poet, and of the 500 poems he wrote many have been set to music.

I’ve made three of these available in Radio Akritas. They are from the CD Των Αθανάτων and are:

1. Των Αθανάτων (The Immortals). Music Dimitris Layios, sung by Giorgos Dalaras.
2. Ηρώων Γη (Land of Heroes). Music Dimitris Layios, sung by Giorgos Dalaras.
3. Ποτέ δεν θα πεθάνουμε (We will never die). Music Michalis Christodoulides, sung by Doros Demesthenous.